Cruz's big wins and other takeaways from a big weekend in politics

Story highlights

  • There nine presidential nominating contests over the weekend
  • Democrats also met for a debate Sunday in Flint, Michigan

(CNN)It was a big weekend for Ted Cruz.

The Texas senator came out on top in GOP contests in two states over the weekend, bolstering his argument that he's the only Republican who can take on Donald Trump.
    For his part, Trump won two states and Marco Rubio picked up a victory in Puerto Rico. The Democratic race also intensified with Bernie Sanders winning three states while Hillary Clinton won just one contest, though it was delegate-rich Louisiana.
    Here are takeaways from a big weekend in politics.

    Ted Cruz built his case

    Cruz has defeated Trump in more state contests than any other competitor, and in regions as diverse as the South, Midwest and New England. His weekend performance at the polls bolsters his argument that he's the only figure in the GOP who can take on the billionaire businessman.
    As of Monday morning, Cruz was within 100 delegates of the real estate mogul's lead.
    It's a point Cruz made at a campaign event in Idaho Saturday, where he telegraphed that other candidates should drop out to let Republicans rally around him: "What we are seeing in Kansas is a manifestation of a real shift in momentum."
    Cruz benefited from the fact that three of the four contests on Saturday were caucuses and that only one allowed voters other than previously registered Republicans to participate. These types of votes play to his strong ground organization and his appeal to the more committed, conservative wing of the party.
    Underscoring his appeal among this group, Cruz on Saturday also won a straw poll of staunchly conservative activists gathered for the Conservative Political Action Conference, a sign that the ideological right seems to be rallying around him.

    Rubio, Kasich wins key to stopping Trump in delegate math

    The magic number in the GOP primary is 848. That's how many delegates Trump still needs to clinch the GOP presidential nomination.
    It is also the number of delegates the other three candidates combined need to prevent him from clinching and to force a contested Republican convention.
    It is quickly becoming clear that winning the nomination outright is largely out of the reach of any candidate not named Trump. While all are still mathematically viable, the climb is steep.
    Based on CNN's delegate estimate for the weekend's primaries and caucuses, Trump needs to win about 54% of all the remaining delegates to capture the nomination. Cruz, who trails by fewer than 100 delegates, needs to win 60%. Rubio, more than 150 delegates behind Cruz, needs to win about 69%, and Kasich would need to win 77%.

    Saturday votes show Sanders still a thorn in Clinton's side

    Clinton still isn't able to shut Sanders out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, even though she pulled in another win Saturday and leads the delegate count.
    The Vermont senator continues to pick up just enough victories around the country -- he took Nebraska and Kansas on Saturday and Maine's caucuses Sunday -- to stay a relevant force. And his campaign war chest remains strong enough to push him forward, possibly for months.
    In a way, Sanders is doing the same thing to Clinton now that she did to then-Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 race. Even though Obama was racking up more delegate wins with each vote, Clinton still had the support and donor firepower to keep the race going.
    One key issue however: Sanders' campaign tends to do better in states with large populations of white voters, while the former secretary of state has had more success in states where greater numbers of African-Americans participate. That trend continued over the weekend, when Sanders won in Nebraska, Kansas and Maine, three states where more than 85% of the population is white.
    Clinton, meanwhile, crushed Sanders in Louisiana, where more than 30% of the population is African-American.
    The results will help bolster the Clinton campaign's insistence that there could be a cap on Sanders' ability to garner support as the race extends to other parts of the country.

    Sanders got angry at Sunday's debate

    Sanders waved, shouted, eye-rolled, baited and goaded his way through CNN's Democratic presidential debate Sunday.
    His verbal sparring with Clinton over the auto bailout demonstrated a new level of comfort with the hand-to-hand combat of presidential campaigns. But it was also a risky move, making him sound potentially patronizing or dismissive of a candidate who could become the first female president.
    Clinton saw Sanders' punches over trade deals coming from miles away. That's particularly true for the North American Free Trade Agreement, implemented under Bill Clinton.
    So she readied an attack that Sanders didn't seem prepared for, going at the Vermont senator for opposing the auto bailout.
    "The money was there and had to be released in order to save the auto industry and 4 million jobs and to begin the restructuring," Clinton said. "I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference."

    Trump on torture: 'We have to beat the savages'

    Trump is casting aside any doubt about his position on torture: He's in favor of it because "we have to beat the savages."
    Trump vowed on Friday that he would never instruct the military to break the law -- appearing to flip on his previous promise to bring back waterboarding and more severe forms of torture. But on Saturday he said repeatedly, during a rally and a late-night news conference, that he would seek to "broaden" the laws to allow torture, including but not limited to waterboarding.
    And pressed on CBS's "Face the Nation" about his position, Trump vowed to "strengthen the laws so that we can better compete" with ISIS' brutal tactics -- rejecting out of hand the argument that allowing torture would be stooping to ISIS' savagery.
    "We have to play the game the way they're playing the game. You're not going to win if we're soft and they're, they have no rules," Trump said in an interview taped Saturday that aired Sunday morning.